Thursday, August 21, 2008

Old Boy review

After Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the Old Boy anticipation grew and knowing of its second place at Cannes built up these huge expectations. While it may not be as emotional as Sympathy, Park Chan-wook lives up to these expectations by breaking away just enough to keep his ideas fresh, but maintaining a style and level of quality that we’ve come to love. Old Boy remains thematically similar to his last film, retaining the revenge story, but here he adds a psychological mystery element to it. With these little tweaks and improvement over his previous films Park crafts another near-perfect exploration of motives, relationships and dumplings.

On his young daughter’s birthday, Oh Daesu (Choi Min-sik) is on his way home with a present for her. After using a phone, he disappears no more than four feet behind his friend and finds himself imprisoned in what looks like a hotel room. He is held there for 15 years with no explanation whatsoever. With nothing but a television set and daily meals, he slowly finds an escape and begins what any logical person would do after. Find the answers as to why, and seek brutal, torturous revenge against whoever did it.

Old Boy kicks off with a sharp contrast playing out the early talkative Oh Daesu. We undergo major character shifts in the first fifteen minutes as he convincingly transforms into a stolid vengeful man through a stylish montage of television programming, cogitative preparation and physical training. Daesu then turns to the audience, starting a voice-over narrative that solemnly guides us through his journey and easily creates sympathy for him. The entire aura of mystery and his dark monologues fit perfectly as the imprisonment scenes capture the confinement and intensity of the situation.

It’s a shame when the plot begins to alter its direction and lay everything on the table for plot advancement. The ambiguity of the early scenes created an appealing mood for the film but in order for the plot to work, the mystery was shed rather early. Still, it’s interesting that when Daesu gets out; the mystery is rather limited, confining him to a set path that feels just as constrained as his prison. Along his path of revenge we’re treated to offbeat characters and violence that leans in the Miike direction, and a fantastic one-shot fight sequence that never lets up. The second act lacks the pull and curiosity of the first, but it’s a fun ride to the unforgettable climactic, revelations-filled third-act.

Fantastic performances all around, most notaby, Choi Min-sik as Oh Daesu, walking along the edge of insanity while struggling to retain compassion, and dramatically shifting to make it feel like he played three characters instead of just one. His performance in the climactic scene will go down in history. Yu Ji-tae turns in a believable, charismatic performance too in a nice change from the last role I saw him in.

The technical brilliance has also improved here with merely the little things. The camera work is superb, distinctively adding to this feeling of confinement we feel with close-ups and tight shooting. My favorite change was the addition of a soundtrack that Park hardly used much in his last two works. It was a classical film score with the rare rock tune or two but it added so much more to the mood. It’s difficult to imagine how this film would have been without one.

Old Boy comes highly recommended because Park only keeps getting better and better. This is the film to show people who may question or doubt the importance of Korean cinema.


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